Janesville64.2°

JCPenney store in Janesville to close

Comments Comments Print Print
Gazette staff
January 15, 2014

JANESVILLE--It shouldn't take long for the Janesville Mall to find another anchor store to replace the departing JCPenney store, a senior planner in Janesville's Community Development Department said.

JCPenney officials announced Wednesday they will close the Janesville store in May along with 32 others nationwide.

“Obviously, it's unfortunate the Penney's store here is underperforming, choosing to close the store,” Gale Price, city building and development services manager, said.

“But we would anticipate that, given the high level of redevelopment activity along Milton Avenue, that we'll see interest of redevelopment of that store for another use here in the near term,” he said.

The company that owns the Janesville Mall has “irons in the fire” to fill the space once JCPenney leaves, said Dan Summerlin of CBL & Associates Properties.

CBL has added or redeveloped 75 mall anchors or “junior anchors” over the past three years and currently has no vacancies, Summerlin, said, hinting that the Janesville store would not stand empty for long.

Four CBL-owned malls are homes to four of the JCPenney stores slated for closing.

“I don't want to minimize the losing of four stores like this, but we have ideas for replacing (the store) or rebuilding the space for multiple retailers,” Summerlin said.

The closing is part of the JCPenney's “turnaround efforts,” according to a news release.

JCPenney stores in Fond du Lac, Rhinelander, Rice Lake and Wausau also will close.

The 33 closures mean the elimination of about 2,000 positions, the company said in a news release.

About 70 people work at the Janesville store, said corporate spokesman Joey Thomas. It wasn't clear how many of those are full-time and part-time employees.

“Eligible associates who do not remain with the company will receive separation benefits, and, if possible, we will assist associates in identifying other job opportunities at nearby JCPenney stores,” Thomas said.

“Additionally, we're offering all associates a two-day, on-site career training class. These classes will assist associates in writing resumes, filling out applications, answering interview questions and more.”

CUSTOMERS NOT SURPRISED

Shoppers outside the Janesville store Wednesday afternoon said they didn't consider the store's closure a surprise because of its competitive neighbors and the economy.

“Kohl's is hard to compete with,” said Mary McMillan of Janesville. “They have nice stuff.”

Sears, Kohl's, Boston Store and JCPenney are the anchor stores of the mall.

McMillan said the closure will “probably not” affect her shopping habits because she rarely steps foot into JCPenney. She will visit the store when she can't find something at Kohl's, or when she is exchanging a gift, as she was Wednesday.

For Jenny Green of Janesville, the store's closing means a loss of childhood memories. She shopped at the store every year when she was younger.

“Before, I used to love this store,” Green said. “It was the staple for back-to-school shopping.”

Green stopped shopping at JCPenney for a period because she noticed the store's product quality wasn't what it used to be, she said. She recently started shopping there again after noticing an improvement in quality and bargains.

Green got “screamin' deals” on dresses and was on the hunt for khaki pants for work Wednesday when she heard the news.

“It makes me sad they're closing … but I just had a feeling.”

JANESVILLE HISTORY

JCPenney moved to Janesville in 1922. The store was 16,000 square feet and located at 32 S. Main St., according to Gazette archives.

The store moved to the Janesville Mall, 2500 Milton Ave., on Oct. 15, 1975, and was the largest store in the mall, occupying more than 140,000 square feet.

When the store moved to the Janesville Mall, the company credited its expansion to the incorporation of modern technology, with cash registers and computers that calculated the amount of merchandise sold each day.

Many local residents got their first jobs at the JCPenney store here.

Rachel Dutcher of Janesville on Wednesday recalled getting her first job at the store when she was 16. She was shopping there when a couple of her friends who worked there suggested she fill out a job application.

She completed the application, had an interview and got the job offer all in that same day back in 2000.

She freaked out a little because she hadn't asked her parents and didn't have a car, she said. She started a couple days later and worked through high school graduation, starting in the bedding department and ending as a member of the signing team.

She is still friends with people she worked with there and babysat for the children of some of her former coworkers. She said she shopped there just before Christmas, and the Arizona brand jeans are the only ones she could find to fit her son.

But she wasn't surprised to hear of the store's closing because of cuts in recent years.

DOWNWARD SPIRAL

The corporate decision was based on an examination of the stores' financial performance, according to the news release.

“Remaining inventory in the affected stores will be sold over the next several months, with final closings expected to be complete by early May,” the news release said.

Myron E. Ullman, III, chief executive officer of JCPenney, is quoted in the news release as saying: “While it's always difficult to make a business decision that impacts our valued customers and associates, this important step addresses a strategic priority to improve the profitability of our stores and position JC Penney for future success.”

At the same time, the company said it still plans to open a new store later this year in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The news of the nationwide closures comes after JCPenney earlier this month said it was pleased with holiday results but declined to give sales figures. A strong November and December is crucial to retailers because it can account for up to 40 percent of annual sales.

The cuts should save more than $65 million annually. The company will take $26 million in charges in the third quarter and $17 million afterward. JCPenney has 116,000 staffers. All the job cuts are related to the store closings.

Penney is trying to recover from a downward sales spiral that occurred under former CEO Ron Johnson. The company brought back former CEO Mike Ullman in April.

LOCAL OPTIONS

Price said it appears from looking at tax bills that JCPenney leases its space. It is common for store anchors to own their space, he said.

Leased space is preferable because the mall's owner, CBL, can fill the space more quickly.

“There's interest in the community for retail, and anchor slots tend to go fairly fast,” Price said.

CBL also owns East Towne Mall and West Towne Mall in Madison and one in Rockford, Ill.

It's all a matter of who is a good fit for Janesville, he said, noting that Gordmans had looked at the Janesville market at one time.

The Madison malls both have a Dick's Sporting Goods stores, so Price wonders if CBL would pursue that company.

“Mall owners are getting creative with dealing with anchor space,” Price said. “I've seen where they've torn down an anchor and built one in the same exact spot just to build it to the design requirements of the retailer coming in.”

The mall has done a good job of filling vacant space, and he believes only one or two spots are open.

A new anchor would bring new life to the mall and might inspire CBL to redevelop the mall like they have done in Madison and Rockford.

“I'd love to see some other stuff that West Towne has here,” Price said.

The average household income in Janesville keeps stores such as Apple from moving here, he said.

But Price said he is optimistic the space will be filled quickly.

 “Janesville does not have another mall to compete with the Janesville Mall, and I think we've held our own as a regional shopping area.

 Interest in the community's retail space and the rebounding of the economy should help CBL bring something to the mall, he said.

“I think it's another opportunity for a new retailer in town, and hopefully CBL is going to be chomping at the bit to make that happen.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.



Comments Comments Print Print